TCSD Conversation: October 2018 – Alex Dreu

Alex Dreu at Ironman Canada 2017

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I talked triathlon recently with TCSD member Alex Dreu.  She has already accomplished a lot during her relatively short triathlon career and I know there is more to come.  Alex has also done her share of giving back to the sport she loves.  I know you will be impressed by what she has done for Women for Tri as well as serving as a guide for visually impaired triathletes.

Craig: What sports did you play when you were younger

Alex: I guess I did what many kids do when they are younger: try out different sports.  I started swimming when I was fairly young and then all throughout high school.  Mostly focused on shorter distances, the 50m and 100m.  I wouldn’t say I was particularly great in it, but it definitely gave me an advantage when I started triathlon… I was comfortable in the water.  I also did gymnastics for a few years (yes, gymnastics), but was definitely not good in that as I really don’t have the best coordination.  In my teens and early twenties, I enjoyed ball sports, like tennis and basketball.  And specifically liked badminton, really enjoyed that.  It’s been ages since I played it ‘though.

Craig: How did you happen to become a triathlete?

Alex: I 150% blame Stacy Sauls for a) getting me into triathlon and b) make me do crazy things like Ironman races.  I was running half marathons for a few years in my mid- to late thirties and really enjoyed it, although I wasn’t particularly fast.  I actually did the first few while still smoking and about 30 lbs. heavier.  That just didn’t sit right with me, I needed to make the decision for myself to either do it and do it right or not.  So, I decided to quit smoking (cold turkey, yes it does work if you really want it) and lose some weight.  Amazing how much faster you can run 30 lbs. lighter!  That was about 6 years ago.  Then 4 years ago Stacy Sauls convinced me to sign up for the Mission Bay Tri (I think it happened during a Friday evening happy hour).  She gave me one of her wetsuits and goggles and such.  And I only had a mountain bike at the time, so that was fun.  My swim was a disaster, did the entire 500m or so on my back after a short freak-out moment, still finishing in a reasonable time.  Swimming in the pool by yourself and then open water during a race with everyone swimming over you are two totally different stories.  Nevertheless, I had a blast and got hooked.  I did a few smaller races the following year, and I signed up for my first 70.3 (of course, Oceanside) and 140.6 in the same year, in 2016.  Yes, the problem with IM Arizona is that you have to sign up very early as it sells out in like 10 minutes, so I actually did that before I had finished my first 70.3.  That year I also joined TCSD and got more involved in the club as part of the Ambassador Team.  That was a great experience and also contributed to me gaining proficiency in this sport.  I can recommend to anyone who’s new to triathlon or wants to do their first race to join their local tri club and TCSD if you are local to San Diego.  It’s a great way to meet like-minded people, people that are experts in this sport and get access to great training resources as well.

Craig: What have been some of the funny or dumb things you have done as an athlete?

Alex: As mentioned above, I did my first few half marathons while still smoking.  Looking back, I really think that was dumb.  I actually finished a few training runs and then lit a cigarette after.  Yuk!  Not good.  Anyhow, that was then.

A funny thing happened in 2016 during the Desert Triathlon in La Quinta, CA.  It was a very windy day (which seems to be the norm during that race, or many in the Palm Springs area) so they didn’t put up the large Finish arch (it would have blown away anyway).  Well, at the end of my second loop on the run I just kept on running.  I knew exactly that I had to cut left to go to the finish chute, but when you are in the moment you don’t think straight.  And I was looking for the large finish sign.  At some point, I realized something wasn’t right, so I asked someone where the finish was.  “About ¼ of a mile back from where you came.”  Darn.  Anyhow, since the run course was a little short, I actually ran the full 10k and still placed 2nd in my AG.  I doubt I’ll do that again…but you never know.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Alex: I love combining racing with exploring new areas.  And making fun weekends out of them.  I did Ironman Canada in 2017 and liked it so much that I signed up again 2 days after the race.  Nuts I know.  It’s a great race, although this year was hard hard hard, with 100 degrees and brutal hills on the bike.  I’d still do it again at some point, as Whistler is just a beautiful location with great race support and a gorgeous swim in the extremely clean Alta Lake.  However, so far, my favorite race has been Ironman Italy in Cervia (Emilia-Romagna) which I just finished this September.  I was born and raised in Germany, so it was amazing to have my parents and a great friend from college there to follow me along the entire day.  A friend of mine who works for Ironman Europe actually made it possible for my parents and my friend to greet me in the finish area, and my dad handed me my medal. That was very special. Ironman Italy is a very fast course… well, my run wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be, but that didn’t have anything to do with the course.  The swim was great… clear calm Adriatic Sea with a lot of jelly fish.  I’d never in my wildest dreams imagine I’d finish an IM swim in under an hour, but I did in Cervia… I blame it on the jelly fish making me swim faster.  If anyone is interested in an Ironman race in Europe, I can highly recommend it.  Feel free to ping me if you have any questions.

For 2019, I added 2 fun destination races to my schedule.  First Hawaii 70.3 (also known as Honu 70.3) in June and then Challenge Roth in July.  I’m super stoked to have gotten into Challenge Roth for several reasons: it’s the biggest race in Europe (has anyone seen “We are triathletes”?  I mean 5,000 participants or so) and again, I’ll have my family there to cheer me on and share this experience with me.

I also try to do smaller races throughout the season.  BBSC puts on fun small races like Pumpkinman in October or Rage and Las Vegas Tri.  The LA Tri Series is a great one too.  June Lake in Mammoth is a great race as well, a tough one at 7,000ft elevation climbing up to over 9,000ft.  Challenging yet rewarding with a great scenery.

Craig: A couple of years ago TCSD had an Ambassador Team.  What did you like about being on that team?

Alex: In 2016, I was part of the TCSD Ambassador Team.  I really liked this experience as it also was in my early stages of triathlon.  It helped me learn a lot about the sport, share experiences with others, but also promote TCSD to people that are interested in triathlon and are looking for a community.

Craig: You have had some involvement in Women for Tri.  What does that group do and how did you help them?

Alex: Women for Tri is an initiative that looks to increase female participation at all levels of triathlon.  Their mission is to identify and diminish primary barriers to entry and mobilize triathlon advocates to encourage and engage female athletes across all distances and representing all athletic abilities. Although the participation of female athletes has increased over the last years, it’s still a very valid initiative if you ask me.  For instance, at Ironman Italy the share of women was only 12-15% of overall participation.  Together with the Ironman Foundation, Women for Tri is giving out grants to triathlon clubs for programs that will support their mission.

I saw this on Facebook (amazing how much we find out now through social media isn’t it) in 2016 and shared it on the TCSD Ambassador Team page.  Paula Munoz, then TCSD Vice President, responded that yes, TCSD should apply for the grant.  So, her and I together mobilized the application process.  We conducted a survey with members and potential members of TCSD to identify what they see as the main barriers to enter triathlons.  The majority brought up their fear of the swim and that they feel intimidated in joining masters sessions at times.  With this information, we put together a swim program coached by women for women, that allowed us to apply for the grant.  Which we received.  The grant money was used for an initial fun social kick off event that Paula organized, which included multiple topics, from open water swimming to nutrition, to bike changing clinics to talking about more personal female topics (I leave it at this LOL).  Then we scheduled several swim clinics together with the La Jolla YMCA, which allowed us to rent lanes.  We had awesome female coaches (big thanks to Julie Dunkle, Carol Gasaway, Holly Stroschine and Dawn Casaday Prebula) who dedicated their evenings to work with mostly beginner swimmers.  I know that TCSD kept the Women for Tri program running and extended it beyond the 2016 swim sessions to focus on other areas of triathlon in 2017.  I very much enjoyed being involved in this and making it happen for TCSD.  If we only helped 5 more women to do their first triathlon, then we’ve succeeded.

Craig: How did you get involved guiding visually impaired triathletes?

Alex: At the end of 2017, I saw a post from Amy Dixon, a bad-ass US Paratriathlete, looking for female guides for her triathlon camp in January of 2018.  I had met Amy during a Braveheart camp a year before.  Knowing that January was still my off season and that I’d very much enjoy this new challenge, I messaged Amy.  We met twice so I could gain some experience on a tandem bike, once for a ride and then for a turn session in a parking lot.  Her camp was amazing.  It took place in January 2018 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.  The agenda consisted of many great sessions swimming, biking, running, strength and other lessons about nutrition, recovery, etc.  I met so many amazing people at this camp.  But the best part is that Amy is an excellent match maker as she paired me up with Rachel Weeks, who’s another bad-ass Paratriathlete from Florida.  Rachel is a very experienced triathlete and had completed several 70.3 and 140.6 races before camp. She taught me so much and helped me get confident as a guide.  We totally hit it off and have since participated in several camps and races, most recently at the ITU Sarasota Paratriathlon World Cup.  And more to come in 2019.  My hope is that Rachel will decide to do Oceanside 70.3, so I can guide her here locally.

Craig: What criteria did you need to meet to be a guide?

Alex: I’d say the most important criterium is to be able to handle the tandem bike, so ideally you should have strong bike skills to begin with.  And you need to be very aware of your surroundings (which you should be anyway when swimming, biking and running), as you are responsible for the safe-being of another person.

One other thing that may sound trivial but isn’t, is that guiding an athlete means that the entire event is not about you.  It’s all for them.  So, if you have a strong ego and like your own name always on top of podiums, guiding may not be the thing for you, regardless of how strong as a triathlete you are.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to race hard for myself and hit the podium every now and then, but when I train or race with Rachel, it’s the opposite.  My whole purpose switches to making sure that she has the race of her life and makes it through it without any hick-ups.

Craig: How can people get involved to become a guide?

Alex: The best way is to reach out to local organizations or join certain Facebook groups. In San Diego for instance, we have the Blind Stokers Club that helps getting more people comfortable piloting tandems.  On Facebook, you can find “Blind/Visually Impaired Triathletes & Guides” and join them.  Also, on a national level USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) and also USAT (USA Triathlon) are great resources.  If you are interested, feel free to reach out to me through Facebook under Alexandra Dreu.  I truly believe, this could also be a great way for TCSD to get involved in Paratriathlon by being a go-to group.

Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alex: For sure, completing my first Ironman in Arizona in 2016 is very high up on this list.  Up until 6 or so years ago, I’ve never heard of triathlon.  You’d think with so many strong German triathletes, we all start it once we are able to walk, but that’s not the case for me.  I didn’t know of this growing up in Germany.  So, going from a random runner to finishing an Ironman in 2 years is definitely something I’m proud of.  Another accomplishment is shaving off almost an hour on my best half marathon time.  I ran my first half in Carlsbad in 2010 – while still smoking – and finished in 2:43. Then 6 years later, in 2016 I ran it again and finished in 1:45 and then 1:44 at Rock ‘n Roll New Orleans a few weeks later.

Most recently, completing 2 races as a guide to a PTVI (paratriathlon visually impaired) athlete is one of the most rewarding accomplishments.  Rachel Weeks and I raced Paratriathlon Nationals in Wisconsin in June, where she placed third to qualify her for the ITU circuit.  Then again, just a couple of weeks ago, I was honored to guide Rachel again at ITU Sarasota World Cup. Through the races and camps I’ve joined as a guide, I’ve met so many amazing athletes that don’t let their situation hold them back from following their dreams.  I also know they can’t do it without having a strong guide so being just that is a great way to give back and support this amazing community.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors?

Alex: 2018 is my second year being part of the Nytro Women’s Racing Team, which consists of 10 badass female triathletes.  We have multiple great sponsors… most importantly Nytro bike shop in Encinitas, Betty Designs, Gatorade Endurance, Jaybird, Surface Sunscreen, Law Firm of Richard L. Duquette, Foodsense Now, San Diego Athlete Massage and Argon 18.  We couldn’t do it without them.  In addition, through my coach Julie Dunkle, I’m also a member of D3 Multisport, which is a national coaching group out of Boulder, CO.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?

Alex: Reduce the entry fees to Ironman races… just kidding.  There isn’t much I’d change for myself.  The one thing that I’m really not happy with is that paratriathletes aren’t able to qualify for Kona like us.  The only way for them to get a slot is through a lottery which gives out 5 slots every year.  If you want to annoy a triathlete, ask any visually impaired triathlete, what they think of this.  It cannot be very hard to also make a qualifying event for them, by either selecting certain Ironman races that are qualifying ones or set a certain time goal that needs to be achieved to be selected.

Craig: What are your future triathlon and endurance sports goals?  (This is really a wide open question.  It does not have to be all about race performance goals.)

Alex: My main goal is to finish an Ironman race and be fully happy with my performance.  In all of them, I had issues on the run that made me walk quite a bit.  My goal is to work mostly on my nutrition to keep any stomach or GI issues from happening.  And also, on the mental side as this is still a weak point for me.  I start walking way too easily.

A dream of mine would be to guide an athlete in an Ironman.  That would be something I’d love to do at some point in the next few years.  As mentioned earlier, hopefully Rachel decides to do Ironman 70.3 Oceanside so I can guide her there and gain more experience in longer course guiding.

I guess most triathletes have the goal to qualify for Kona at some point.  I’d lie if I say I don’t.  I do, but I don’t want that to control how I approach this sport, or which races I choose.  Alaskaman is also high on my list.

Craig: Alex, thank you for sharing your story.  You are a special person who recognizes the value of paying it forward.  We are lucky to have you in our community.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or




Posted in 2018, Half Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mission Bay Triathlon

I am flanked by 2 athletes I have coached the last couple of years: Susan Powell and Dan Redfern.

On September 30th I raced the Mission Bay Triathlon near Sea World in San Diego.  This was the 13th time I have done this race, but the 1st time in its new location at Ventura Cove.  2 years ago I volunteered at this race to be a Swim Buddy.  Some of the local races that are especially beginner friendly offer swim buddies to help the people who are deathly afraid of open water swimming.  It felt great to give back like that 2 years ago, but I wanted to race this year.

The 1K (0.62 miles) swim course was in Ventura Cove.  The water temperature was in the high 60’s so we could wear wetsuits.  I had a fair swim as I came out of the water in 15:19, good for 4th place.

The 38K (23.6 miles) bike course was horrible.  90% of the field should have been disqualified and that includes me.  The course was 4 loops of 9.5K each.  Each loop began and ended on West Mission Bay Drive where there was a 250 meter no passing zone in each direction.  That is 8 no passing zones that added up to 1K during the entire bike course.  That is not a race!  It was an accident waiting to happen as really fast cyclists were trying to co-exist with a bunch of beginners on a very narrow piece of road.  In defense of the race director, the city was doing some road construction and that was the cause of the narrow road that was made available to the race.  I was very patient and nice to people in the no passing zone, but I did pass a few people when I thought it was safe.  As far as I know there were no crashes in the no passing zone.  My bike split was 1:07:14 which was 4th best and it kept me in 4th place.  Yes, the bike course was a disappointment, but I don’t think it had any impact on my final finishing place.

The 9K (5.6 miles) pancake flat run was 2 loops.  Each loop took us along the boardwalk next to the beach and the finish was near the roller coaster.  I was pleasantly distracted by the sight of the women playing beach volleyball and some other people who contributed the smell of pot smoke in the air.  There was a lot going on at 8am on a Sunday morning!  I had the fastest run on the day as my split was 33:40.  I finished in 1:59:55 to place 3rd out of 13 men in the 55-59 age group.  1st and 2nd place went to my friends Andy Seitz and Troy Cundari, respectively.  I was 16th out of 268 overall finishers.

To see my pictures, click on this link:

I was so disappointed by the bike course that I decided not to stay for the Awards.  Instead, I drove up to my church in Carlsbad (Daybreak Church) and enjoyed the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast.  I organize the Parking Team and was initially saddened that the church picked the same day as my race for this breakfast.  But it all worked out.  Nothing puts a smile on my face like free food!

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ITU Triathlon World Championships – Gold Coast, Australia

Smokey wants to be the Team USA Flag “Bear”er at next year’s World Championships.

Laurie and Dee Dee McCann Burton in Sydney.

Team USA Men 55-59 at the finish line. Craig is 3rd from left.

On September 16th I raced the ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.  This was the 14th time in my career I have raced the Olympic Distance Worlds and 25th time I have raced for Team USA at a world championship.  It has been an honor every time.

The 1.5K (0.93 miles) swim was point to point with the current so times were going to be fast.  My age group was 3rd from the last to start at 8:30am.  The water temperature was in the high 60’s so we could wear wetsuits and the air temperature was in the mid 70’s.  I had a very solid swim as I completed the course in 21:57, good for 23rd place.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was 2 laps of mostly flat roads.  The bike challenge was going to be the winds.  The evening before the race the organizers announced disk wheels would be prohibited because of the high winds.  That was not a problem for me as I don’t race with a disk, but it did cause some athletes to scramble to borrow or rent wheels.  I had all I could handle keeping my bike on the road with the crosswinds.  I felt safe in the aero position only about 1/3 of the time.  My bike split was 1:09:07 (21.7 mph) which was 68th best, dropping me to 49th place.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run course was also 2 laps of a pancake flat road.  My legs felt as good as they have in years on the run.  I had the fastest run split on the day with a time of 36:31 (5:53/mile) to finish in 2:12:48.  I placed 19th out of 92 men age 55-59.  I was thrilled to crack the top 20.  I was the 5th out of 16 Americans.

I had raced the 2009 Worlds on this course and placed 29th in the men’s 45-49 age group with a time of 2:08:02.  I was pleased that I have not lost too much speed over the past 9 years.

Click on this link to see my race photos (very few good swim photos, but lots of good bike and run photos)

While I was racing at the Gold Coast, my wife Laurie was racing the Sydney Marathon.  Laurie had another of her great races as she placed 3rd in her age group.  This was her 257th career marathon.  I missed her for the day we had to be in 2 different cities, but I am so glad she did this race.  I could not be more proud of her!

We were in Australia for 9 days.  It was a lot of fun seeing old Team USA friends and making new ones.  The first half of the trip was spent relaxing at Surfer’s Paradise which is one of the most beautiful beach resorts in the world.  The second half we became tourists in Brisbane.  We enjoyed a few evenings of the light show at BrisFest along the south bank of the Brisbane River.  We toured the General Douglas MacArthur Museum as Brisbane was his headquarters during World War II.  We took a half day tour of the Tamborine Mountain Rainforest and a full day tour of North Stradbroke Island.  Straddie is the 2nd largest sand island in the world.  We saw kangaroos, koalas, sea turtles, dolphins and whales in their natural habitat.  We had a wonderful time!

God has really blessed us!

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Marathon, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TCSD Conversation: September 2018 – AJ Lawson

2013 San Diego Triathlon Classic. From left to right: Joe Taormino, AJ Lawson, Andrew Shore, Kurt Talke

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with one of TCSD’s most active volunteers, AJ Lawson.  I originally met AJ when we sang Christmas Carols at local assisted living homes and also while serving the residents of St. Vincent de Paul.  AJ is an original Team Solana member and someone you should know.

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

AJ: My athletic background before beginning triathlon included some interesting sports. I grew up in San Diego and always road around on my BMX bike.  I also did all the typical San Diegan kid activities like surfing, skating, roller blading, and swimming.  I feel like I was the last generation on that cusp where we would come home from school and go hang out in the neighborhood with our friends until it was dark or we got hungry.  Cellphones were still not a big thing!  I loved cruising the streets on my bicycle, but I also enjoyed running.  It wasn’t until the end of middle school that I first played an organized sport.  I started out with pop-warner football and played for the Alvarado Patriots.

When high school began it was a whole new world of sports because of how many options we had.  I was an oddball in that I played badminton, wrestled, and played football through my high school career.  I was best at badminton and used football and wrestling to keep in shape and keep my connection with my non-Asian friends.  Badminton is known as being an Asian sport.  As a Caucasian kid playing badminton I definitely stood out.  Out of all the sports I did growing up badminton came easiest to me.  I ended up getting a badminton sponsorship from the top badminton company in the world.  I played badminton for fitness up until 2008/2009.  I coached badminton and competed in lots of tournaments.  I have a few trophies and medals but I wasn’t willing to give up my life to train for badminton so I never became elite.

Craig: What led you to become a triathlete?

AJ: While watching television when I was young I was able to catch the Ironman World Championship Coverage.  I was fascinated by the athletes and what they could put their bodies through. It was at around the age of 12 that I put triathlon on my radar. I kept the thought of competing in a triathlon race in the back of my mind throughout high school and into college knowing one day that I had to race.  I always wanted to do something extreme and triathlon fit the bill.  In 2009 I saw a post for a triathlon team through the Triathlon Club of San Diego.  That team was Team Solana and was a fundraising team for TCSD.  I joined the team and paid the fees as fast as possible.  I loved the thought of giving back to something while also having a group to train with.

Craig: What was Team Solana and how did that help you complete your first triathlon?

AJ: Team Solana was a random group of people with one goal in mind: compete in a triathlon race.  I joined the team in 2009 which was the first year it was introduced.  I believe there were about 20 of us who joined the team.  There was an information session followed by a Q & A.  I got enough information from that to know that I wanted in.  Our coaches included two guys names Steve and one guy named Dean.  The team had people from all walks of life, overweight and out of shape to hard core runner.  I knew this had to be the group for me.

The program was simple: Take people who have never raced a triathlon, give them all the tools and training needed to complete their first race, and support the tri community.  Our team coaches put together workout schedules for the week and threw us right in the mix.  We had pool swims, group bike rides, group runs, and these odd things called brick workouts. I went out and bought my first triathlon bike, my first pair of swimming goggles, and my first triathlon wetsuit.  After our initial workouts I knew I was hooked and would love this sport.  Our schedule consisted of coached beginner pool workouts at the TCSD rented pool during the week.  It was here that I learned how bad I was at swimming and how I wish I had been forced to swim growing up.  I slowly gained swim fitness and got a bit better at swimming.  Run workouts I mostly did on my own whenever I had free time.  The running came easy for me.  If I had to pick which of the three disciplines I was best at in the beginning, it would have been the run.

Cycling was a completely new concept for me.  Growing up riding BMX and mountain bikes I never thought I would be one of those spandex wierdos who get in the way of cars and ride with traffic.  Oh how one learns quickly!  Our team coaches started taking us out on the 56 bike path to get us comfortable riding distance and to gain a bit of cycling fitness.  I started out cycling in board shorts, I thought I was way too cool for spandex.  After my first few chaffing experiences I quickly bought some spandex shorts with the largest pad available.  After our first few rides I was talked into buying shoes and clip-in pedals.  This is when I experienced my first no speed crash.  I never thought it was possible to crash while not moving but man was I wrong.  After my first crash I had to let go of my pride and embrace the cycling lifestyle.  Our 56 bike path rides became my favorite training events.  It was here that I became good friends with the Christansen family as well as James Ismailoglu, Al Allington, Paula Munoz, Gordon Clark, Steve Tally, and a few others.  The rides turned in to a race each week and we all started to push one another.  After a couple weeks we started running as a group when we finished our rides.  We ended our couple month long training program with two transition clinics and a beginner triathlon before the Solana Beach Triathlon.  Solana Beach was my first real tri and it was such a pleasure having a tri family to race with and cheer for.  Being a part of Team Solana taught me what the true meaning of community is.   Team Solana Originals for life!

Craig: What have been some of your favorite races over the years?

AJ: There are so many great triathlons around the world now. One of my favorite races has to be Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens.  Ironman Lake Stevens was held in Lake Stevens, Washington, 20 minutes east of Everett and about 45 minutes north east of Seattle.  The race started out on this crystal clear fresh water lake which happened to be used for water skiing.  While doing the swim you really didn’t have to sight because of a metal wire they use for ski buoys.  The wire was always my life saver because I am terrible at sighting during swims.

The Bike course was beautiful as well.  It started out in the town of Lake Stevens and was one large loop into the country and back.  It was awesome to be riding on two lane roads surrounded by greenery and large trees.  The air was crisp and around each corner was the surprise of livestock or a hill.  During the ride I got to see horses, chickens, goats, alpacas, llamas, sheep, cattle, and the occasional deer.  The run course was scenic as well and went around Lake Stevens.  The true reason why this was my favorite 70.3 was the fact that my aunt and uncle own a home on the lake.  They would host my friends and I and were fascinated that we would travel to do a triathlon.  They were the most gracious hosts and always let any of my friends or acquaintances use their shower or hose post-race.  Unfortunately Lake Stevens 70.3 was cancelled a few years back by Ironman.

Some of my other favorite races outside of San Diego are the Wildflower Triathlon and Ironman Arizona 70.3/140.6  These races are within driving distance and have so much to offer.

Craig: What have been some of the dumbest things you have done as a triathlete?

AJ: As triathletes, I feel we do a lot of really silly things while racing.  I think it is called race brain and I tend to get a serious case of race brain.  As you know my first real race was Solana Beach in 2009.  I try to race in the Solana Beach Tri every year.  I must admit that the third time I did that race I wore my helmet out of transition and about half of a mile onto the run.  I had no idea why people were laughing and yelling at me, I just smiled and waved…  I was finally able to ditch the helmet when I adjusted my sunglasses.

You would think that I would know that course well for how many times I have raced there, but somehow I still end up making mistakes.  On at least two occasions I finished the race with no one near me and got really excited only to realize that I completely skipped the entire second loop of the run.  When I raced Solana Beach this year, 2018, I had a lot of friends racing as well.  When I got to the finish line I was chatting with my friend and fellow TCSD member Whitney Roline.  Whit said she got first in her age group, then said: “the run is only one loop, right?’’  We had a good laugh and I reassured her that I missed the second loop on the run two years in a row!

Craig: What obstacles have been most challenging for you to overcome as a triathlete?

AJ: There are many obstacles in the sport of triathlon.  What I feel is the hardest obstacle is training.  It can be so hard to wake up at 5am to get a workout in or to work a full day and know you need to put in time on your bike.  What really helps with this obstacle is will power and friends.  It has been so nice over the years to have friends who I can workout with, race with, and volunteer with.  In the end though, it comes down to our own will power and how much we are willing to give to achieve our goal.  I have learned so much over the years thanks to this sport.  It has taught me that I can accomplish anything if I set my mind to it and I believe the same is true for each and every individual who wants to complete a triathlon.  We all start our journey somewhere and are all working toward the same goal, crossing that finish line!

Craig: You seemed to get involved in TCSD as soon as you joined.  What have been some of the volunteer activities you have done for TCSD?

AJ: I am all about being involved in a community in which I have the opportunity to give back. After Team Solana I knew I wanted to jump right into the triathlon world.  I started out volunteering wherever I could.  By volunteering I was able to meet so many great people and make new friends.  Many of the Team Solana members went on to have key positions in the club.  My friend Jay Lewis became the race director for TCSD for a few years.  Having Jay as a friend I got to learn about what it takes to pull permits for races and create a race schedule a year in advance so TCSD members can put their race season together.  I also became friends with this guy Joe who had a Rottweiler named Max.  Joe organized the monthly cove potlucks which are held once a month after the Friday night cove swim.  Joe was really great at handing me his dog leash and spatula so he could get his swim in.  My friend James started to lead the TCSD beginner bike rides on the 56 bike path.  I was always willing to go help other beginners at this workout because it is where I first learned to cycle.

More recently I have been filling in the gaps wherever needed.  I guess it was a good thing that I learned so much about the inner workings of the club.  For the last year I have been helping with expo coordination, race directing, club meetings, TCSD storage management, and volunteer coordination.  My Triathlon Club of San Diego experience has been absolutely amazing and I owe it all to the outstanding volunteers who put in so much time and effort to keep this club astonishing and number one.  There is so much that goes on behind the scenes and it is so rewarding being able to give back to something that gives so much.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over triathlon, what would you change?

AJ: If I could wave a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, I would make sure races always had plentiful cow bells and spectators.  In Europe, Challenge Roth is a major event and entire cities stop what they are doing and go outside to scream and cheer for those racing.  My wand would ensure that any long distance triathlon maintains that energy and lets those racing know that they are supported.  I feel like a lot of the local races in the USA were or are being bought out and some are losing their home town feel.  I would wave that wand so hard and make all those races feel the same.  I guess I was spoiled by being able to do a few 70.3 races in small towns where everyone in the town comes out to cheer and scream.  Much of the time you are digging deep and fighting a tough mental battle with yourself to continue pushing and the energy and cheering from the sidelines is what really keeps me pushing.  Thanks to all those who cheer their hearts out and ring those cow bells for hours.  Oh and Craig, let me know when I can pick up my wand!

Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life?

AJ: I have been so fortunate with my life.  I am healthy, surrounded by people I love, and am able to give back to a community which is so supportive.  My biological parents always encouraged me to work hard and complete tasks.  They set me up for success in life and always support my brothers and sister in all our endeavors.  My parents were there when I did my very first triathlon and were there when I completed my very first Ironman.

When I needed advice outside of my family circle I turned to my god parents or my best friend’s parents.  I loved growing up having the advice of three separate sets of parents. I still tell all my friends that I have three sets of parents.  I get to visit with each parenting couple weekly and am grateful for the love and support they continue to offer me.  Thanks Jon, Karen, Tom, Diana, Paula, and Mark for all the advice and support you have given me throughout the years.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors that you’d like to mention?

AJ: My friend James told me how great it was being on Team Zoot for the 2017 season so I went ahead and applied for the 2018 season.  Zoot is the original triathlon clothing brand and really know what they are doing when it comes to triathlon gear.  It has been a pleasure racing with other Team Zoot members this season.  Their one-piece kit is the only one piece I have ever been comfortable in.  I am looking forward to working more with Zoot in the years to come.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

AJ: I love triathlon as a sport and I hope to continue using it as a lifestyle.  I love that I have the option to swim, bike, and run.  I do plan to complete another Ironman in my near future.  I have always wanted to do a destination race in a country other than the USA.  I think Challenge Roth or Ironman Ireland, Cork are right up my alley.  I would like to be a bit more involved in the club in the future.  I am hoping to run for President of tri club and build an awesome volunteer team.  I would love to see TCSD become a shining example of what a good club is all about as well as giving back to the community we all love and are a part of.

Craig: AJ, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You do a lot for TCSD and the community.  We are lucky to have you.  If you happen to become TCSD President, I know we’ll be in good hands.  Good luck!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2018, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: August 2018 – Andy Thacher

Andy Thacher representing Team USA at the 2017 ITU Aquathlon World Championships in Penticton, British Columbia.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the pleasure of talking triathlon with TCSD member Andy Thacher.  Andy has done more races than any person I know.  This interview will be published just after Andy represents Team USA at the Aquathlon World Championships in Denmark.  Andy has had a very impressive racing career and I know you’ll enjoy getting to know him.

Craig: What sports did you do as a kid?

Andy: As a kid, I grew up in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah. I liked sports and had the desire and the work ethic to succeed but lacked the natural talent especially in those sports that required hand-eye coordination and was a little overweight. My athletic journey began in the spring of my 2nd grade year as a runner. Our class was given the opportunity to run laps at lunchtime around a quarter-mile loop around a set of four telephone poles. We could earn rewards based on achieving certain mileage goals. Me and my friends started running during our lunch hour after we ate lunch. As time went on, the time it took to eat lunch got shorter and shorter and the amount of running got longer and longer. I ended up finishing the school year with the second highest cumulative total mileage – 125 miles.

In 3rd through 6th grade, I played Little League baseball as an outfielder and a 2nd baseman. I wasn’t very good at baseball but had fun. In 7th grade, I played on a junior tennis league team. I had the opportunity to play at a lot of real nice indoor tennis courts. I had some success and won a few matches against similarly seeded players from other teams. I had fun, but knew it wasn’t really my sport.

In 8th and 9th grade, I switched sports and became an age group swimmer. I competed in a variety of events, but breaststroke was by far my best stroke. My younger brother and I started age group swimming together. Our parents would take us to swim meets all over the state. I wasn’t a very fast swimmer, but as I worked at it I saw improvement.

In high school, I was the back-up goalie for the water polo team and competed in the breast stroke and individual medley for the swim team. Our water polo team took 2nd in state my sophomore year and won state my junior and senior year. As the #2 goalie, I got a lot of playing time in practice scrimmages, junior varsity games, and varsity games when we had a comfortable lead. My high school’s swim team won state all three years. During swim season, we were swimming 8,000 to 10,000 yards a day. Although I was one of the slowest swimmers on my high school’s swim team, I managed to letter in water polo and swimming my junior and senior years.

At the end of my junior year of high school, in May of 1980, I ran my first road race, the Farmington 5000 in 21:21. My dad and my two brothers also ran in the race. I ended up finishing ahead of my dad and two brothers. After the race, I realized I had some talent as a runner and might have a future in the sport.

I ran the mile and 2-mile in track my senior year. I was the top distance runner for my high school’s mediocre track team. My best times in high school were 5:15 for the mile and 11:15 for the 2-mile.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Andy: My first triathlon was the Big Bear Triathlon in July of 1988. The triathlon consisted of a ½ mile swim, an 18-mile bike, and a 4-mile run. The water was cold and I didn’t have a wetsuit so I swam in a speedo. I had a slow swim – 21:41. I had a bike split of 51:26 on my Centurion LeMans bike with clip on aero bars and pedals with cages. My run split was 24:43. I finished 237th overall & 69th in my age group.

Craig: What did you like most about this new sport of triathlon?

Andy: The thing I liked most about the new sport of triathlon was the challenge and variety learning to master the 3 different sports that make up a triathlon. Especially, back in the early days of triathlon, there were a lot of single-sport specialists trying out the sport. As a result, there were lots of position changes during the races. Also, the variety allowed me to supplement my run mileage with lower injury risk.

Craig: You have done more races than anyone I know.  How many races have you done?

Andy: Through June 2018, I have done approximately 2043 races. I have done 173 triathlons (including 2 half-ironman distance triathlons, 72 duathlons, 111 aquathlons, 35 swim races, 4 aquabike races and 1648 running races (including 18 marathons & 105 half marathons).

Craig: At your peak, what would be the most races you have done in a calendar year?

Andy: The most races I have done in a calendar year is 112 in 2013. This consisted of 79 running races (including 5 half-marathons), 12 triathlons, 4 duathlons, 7 aquathlons, and 10 swim races. Since 2007, I have been consistently doing around 80-90 races a year. The number of races per year grew steadily from 79 in 2007 to 105 in 2012 and reached a peak in 2013 of 112. From 2014 to 2016, the number of races per year was in the mid-80’s to low 90’s range. In 2017, I decided to cut back a little on the racing due to cost constraints and the rest of life getting busier. In 2017, I did 66 races and am on pace to do about the same number in 2018. It was never my goal to hit a certain number of races in a year, I just did races that looked interesting to me and that were reasonably priced or were part of a series I was doing. Entry fees alone for the races during the peak years ranged from $3,500 to $4,000 per year.

Craig: What are your favorite parts about race day that you can’t get on an ordinary training day?

Andy: Through most of my athletic career, I’ve done the bulk of my training alone in the early morning hours. My favorite parts of race day are (1) the opportunity to catch up with friends who share similar interests, who I’ve met at previous races, (2) the chance to make new friends who you already have something in common with, (3) races enable me to push myself harder and dig deeper than I can in training, (4) the opportunity to swim, bike, or run with other people around your same speed, and (5) the perks you get from races – t-shirts. food, and drawings.

Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?

Andy: My favorite destination races are the following:

The Sand Hollow Triathlon – it’s a sprint triathlon in the Southern Utah town of Hurricane. The race is very scenic and well organized. The swim is in a reservoir surrounded by sandstone mountains, the bike is rolling hills around the perimeter of the reservoir, and the run is an out-and-back rolling hill course. The race takes place in late May and the weather conditions are usually ideal.

Ogden Triathlon – the triathlon started at a lake in the mountains east of Ogden, Utah. The triathlon consisted of a 1-mile lake swim, a 37.5 mile bike that went around the lake, down a canyon, and finished at a high school in Ogden, the run was a 10K on a loop course around the city of Ogden. The race took place in late July.

St. George Marathon – the marathon starts in the mountains east of St. George in Southern Utah.  The first 20 miles of the race are a scenic rolling downhill course coming down the mountain while the last 10K are mostly level through the City of St. George. The marathon takes place in early October and can be a little cold and rainy at the start.

Deseret News Marathon – the marathon starts in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, crosses over between two canyons, runs through the University of Utah campus, runs along the parade route in downtown Salt Lake City where the crowds are lined up for the parade, and finishes at a park in downtown Salt Lake City. The race takes place on July 24th, which is a state holiday in Utah, and can get a little warm, but has an early start time.

Craig: You have an impressive streak of racing every Aquathlon World Championships since Edmonton 2014.  These include Chicago 2015, Cozumel 2016, Penticton 2017 and you are on your way to Denmark this year.  What have been your favorite parts of these experiences?

Andy: I have gone to Aquathlon Worlds for the past 4 years as part of Team USA and will be racing Aquathlon Worlds in Denmark this year. My favorite parts of these experiences are (1) the honor of representing your country at a major sporting event where you are competing against athletes from all over the world. Ever since I watched the 1972 Summer Olympics, I had always dreamed of making it to the Olympics. I figure for me, competing at worlds is the closest I’ll ever get to the Olympic experience. (2) The level of competition at worlds is a level above most of the other races. The main difference at worlds is that you have people in your age group around you throughout the whole race, whereas in most races at some point there is separation from most of the people in my age group. (3) The opportunity to see new places that I don’t know if I’d make it to otherwise.

Craig: What are some of the dumbest things you have done during your endurance sport career?

Andy: The dumbest things I have done as a multisport athlete are (1) at the Southern Nevada Road Runners Club Half Ironman in May of 1990 (my 2nd triathlon). The swim was at Lake Mead and water temperature was in the high 50’s. I didn’t have a wetsuit, so I did the swim in a speedo. I got mild hypothermia during the swim, so when I got to the swim-to-bike transition my legs didn’t work and I couldn’t get on my bike. Fortunately, it was a warm day in Las Vegas so after my body warmed up, I was finally able to get on my bike. My transition time was around 8 minutes. After this race, I bought my first wetsuit. (2) In July of 1991, I misread the race information and read that the bike portion was a 37.5K and didn’t find out until around 18 miles into the bike that the distance wasn’t 37.5K, and the race would finish at a high school in Ogden. The bike course went around the perimeter of the mountain lake, and I thought that the triathlon would all take place near the lake. Once I found out that we were finishing at the high school in Ogden, I had no idea how long the bike actually was. After we did the loop around the perimeter of the lake, the bike course headed down a canyon into Ogden and finished at the high school. It turned out the bike portion was actually 37.5 miles. (3) In August of 1991, at the Mike & Rob’s Most Excellent Half Ironman Triathlon around 40 miles into the bike leg, I hit a patch of rough road and my bike frame pump came loose. I caught the pump before it hit the ground. I carried the pump in my left hand during the remainder of the bike leg and my hand cramped up.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Andy: My favorite benefits of membership in TCSD are the club races, especially the Aquathlons. The club races are a lot of fun, have good competition, and always have good food. Also, I like the club meetings and hearing from the pros. Most of all, I appreciate the friends I have made since joining TCSD and who share a love for the sport.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?

Andy: The main thing I would change in the sport of triathlon is the swim/bike/run ratios of the standard distance triathlons to make it more balanced. Most triathlons are bike heavy and short-change the swim. I would shorten the bike leg and lengthen the swim to make it more balanced. To figure out the appropriate distances, I would use a mathematical formula based on world record times or Olympic qualifying standards for the standard distances of the current Olympic distance triathlon (1500 meter swim, 40K bike, and 10K run) to get the 3 legs more equal in terms of time to complete.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life?

Andy: The most influential people in my life that helped shape my athletic career were (1) my younger brother, Dan.  My brother Dan and I started age group swimming at the same time. I had the drive and the work ethic, but my brother had the talent. I would drag my brother to swim practice, and we both improved over time, but my brother was always faster than me. Friendly, brotherly rivalry kept me motivated to improve and try to get faster. (2) My dad & mom, Jim & Pauline, were very supportive of us pursuing sports growing up. They would take me to practice and competitions all over the state. (3) Coach Killpack, my high school swim coach. Although, I was one of the slowest swimmers on the team my coach didn’t give up on me. As a result, I improved over time and learned how to train as a swimmer.

Craig: What have been the most important events of your life?

Andy: The most important events in my life have been (1) graduating valedictorian of my high school class in 1981, (2) finishing college at the University of Texas at Austin with a Master’s degree in Accounting in 1985, (3) getting married to Julie in 1986  (4) moving to San Diego and getting my first real job in accounting in 1986, (5) the birth of my daughter Melissa in 1987 & my son Timothy in 1990, (6) my divorce in 1993, and (7) my marriage to my wife Kim in 2017.

Craig: What are your future athletic goals?

Andy: My future athletic goals are to become a USAT All-American. I figure I have the best chance in Aquathlon if there is enough growth in the sport. Also, my goal is to improve my run times. My short-term goal is to get my 5K time back to under 22 minutes, and eventually back under 21 minutes.  And my goal is to get faster on the bike so that I can be more competitive in my age group.

Craig: Andy, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I have wanted to interview you for a few years now.  It was well worth the wait.  Good luck with your next 2043 races!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2018, Half Marathon, Marathon, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

USA Triathlon National Championships – Cleveland

Triathlon Club of San Diego friends at Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Laurie and Craig 15 minutes before race start.

Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On August 11th I raced the USA Triathlon National Championships (Olympic Distance) in Cleveland, OH.  Nationals is always one of my most important races of the year.  The primary goal this year was to get 1 of the 18 slots available in my age for the 2019 World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. The slots can roll down as far as 25th place so I had to finish in the top 25 to be considered, but I wanted to be in the top 18 to control my own destiny.  My pie in the sky goal was top 10.  In 2017 I was 7th.

My wife Laurie traveled with me.  She is my #1 fan and she always brings me good luck.  We spent part of 8/10 volunteering at the race expo.  It is always good to give back to the sport.  And the night before the race we had a wonderful dinner at Great Lakes Brewing Company with some friends from the Triathlon Club of San Diego.

The big news in the days prior to the race was the water temperature of Lake Erie.  Wetsuits are allowed if the water temperature is less than 78.  The temperature was climbing and it was 79 on 8/10 – too warm for wetsuits.  I’m a reasonably good swimmer so I was not stressing over the temperature.

When I arrived at the venue on race morning, race announcer Tim Yount said the Lake Erie temperature was 76.  A big cheer erupted among many of the nervous athletes as wetsuits would be permitted.

Lake Erie is a shallow lake so it is prone to choppy conditions.  It was very choppy on race morning so I was glad to wear the wetsuit.  Typically I would swim 1.5K (0.93 miles) in 23 minutes.  It was such a rough swim that I came out of the water in 32:18.  I hoped everyone had as much difficulty as I had.  I felt like I did my best and I swam a fairly straight route.  I had no idea at the time, but I was in 26th place.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was fast with very few turns.  The roads were smooth, except for a few bumpy patches over the bridges.  It seemed like very few guys passed me on the bike.  That could be bad news as maybe they were already ahead of me after the swim?  Or since that swim was so rough, maybe I did great and they could not catch me?  I can be such a head case during these races, but mostly I had positive thoughts.  I felt great with my performance on the bike.  My split was 1:08:42 (21.7 mph).  This was the 65th fastest time on the bike and it dropped me to 32nd place.

We ran 2 laps to comprise the 10K (6.2 miles) run course.  It was challenging as it had some tough hills.  The tougher the better for me.  I started the run next to my San Diego friend, Troy Cundari.  I figured that was good news for me since Troy is a strong athlete.  I felt solid on the run.  The course was spectator friendly so Laurie was able to see me multiple times.  One of the times she hollered at me “you are running like hot butter through a knife”.  That line has been an inside joke between us since we heard Jens Voigt say that on this year’s Tour de France telecast.  She purposely said it just like Jens and got it backwards.

A unique challenge toward the end of the run course was the flyover bridge.  This was a man-made bridge made specifically for this race.  It enabled the athletes finishing the swim to run under, while the athletes finishing the run to run over.  It was a very steep ramp up and then very steep on the way down.  The flyover bridge was positioned 200 meters from the finish line.  My mentality at that point is to sprint as fast as I can.  That mentality nearly caused me to crash running down the steep flyover bridge.  I was completely out of control, but only by the grace of God was I able to avoid a major wipe out.  I actually got caught by a volunteer just before I crashed into some metal fencing.  I finished with the 2nd best run split 38:01 (6:08/mile) to give me a 2:23:37 finish time.  4 guys finished within 61 seconds ahead of me and 1 guy was 8 seconds behind me.  This was good for 11th place out of 151 men in the 55-59 age group and a slot on Team USA in Switzerland.  I was very happy with my result.  Troy placed 19th so he should also get a slot for Switzerland.

I accomplished my primary goals for 2018 which were to qualify for 2 different World Championships in 2019.  On 9/1/19 I’ll be racing in Lausanne and on 9/8/19 I’ll be racing the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France.  I feel very blessed by God to get to enjoy a racation like that.

To see my pictures, click on this link:

Sadly, 75 year old Jim Hix died during the swim portion of the race.  Jim was the 2017 USA Duathlon National Champion for the men 75-79.  I did not know Jim personally.  Jim’s race started 1 hour before mine.  I had no idea of this news until 8 hours later.  Please keep Jim’s family and friends in your prayers.

On 8/12 I drove an hour to Canton to tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  It was well worth it.  I can’t wait for next year’s trip to Cleveland for Nationals when I plan to visit the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ironman 70.3 Muncie

Beacon Hill dinner on July 12 – Randy, Connie, Laurie, Craig, Cindy, Bill, Debbie and Mom.

Craig and #1 Fan Laurie before the race.

Men’s 55-59 Age Group Podium.

Wandering Wheels friends: Coach and Janech.

On July 14th I raced Ironman 70.3 Muncie in Indiana.  I had actually done this race back in 1991 when it was called the Muncie Endurathon.  It was my 27th triathlon and my 1st Half Ironman distance race.  My finish time in 1991 was 4:51:37.  The 2018 edition was my 301st triathlon and my 42nd Half Ironman.  My goal at this year’s race was to qualify for the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France.  I was predicting there would probably be only 1 slot in my age group for Nice.

The 1.2 mile swim was held in Prairie Creek Reservoir.  The water temperature was 81 degrees so wetsuits were not allowed.  It was going to be a warm, muggy day.  By the time I finished the race at noon, the temperatures had reached 90+.  Following the trend of other Ironman 70.3 races, they had us do a rolling start which is when the athletes self-seed themselves by estimated swim finish time, rather than by age group.  I seeded myself with the 30-33 minute swimmers so I was one of the 1st 100 athletes to enter the water.  My swim time was slower than my estimate, but I felt like I had a very good, relaxed swim.  My split was 37:26 (1:56/100 meters), good enough for 3rd place.  1st place was only 20 seconds ahead of me.  Swim times were all slow due to no wetsuits.

I was anticipating a bumpy route for the 56 mile bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised by one of the smoother and flatter bike courses I’ve done in a long time.  The route took us 8 miles from the transition area where we did 2 loops of 20 miles each, before returning to transition.  Because I was off the front, the first 28 miles were pretty quiet, but then it started to get more crowded for the next 20 miles, but there was still enough room to avoid drafting issues.  I took in 800 calories of my Carbopro/Gatorade formula on the bike and my stomach felt perfect.  I pushed hard on the bike, but I definitely saved something for the run.  My bike split was 2:35:23 (21.62 mph).  That was the 9th fastest bike split and it put me in 4th place to start the run.  I felt like I was having a great race.

The 13.1 mile run was a simple out and back on a relatively flat road.  Simple, except it was very hot on the pavement, with little shade.  I put ice in my hat and shorts at each of the first 4 aid stations, but I had better success holding a piece of ice in each hand.  At mile 4 I started to feel a hot spot on the bottom of my right foot.  I feared a blister might be developing because of all the melting ice and my sweat getting my shoes wet.  I was managing the temperatures ok so I decided to forego any more ice.  That seemed to work as by mile 5.5 my foot felt fine again.  Thankfully the issue never really did slow me down and I never did get a blister.  My run split was 1:35:57 (7:19/mile) to finish in 4:54:16.  I had the 2nd fastest run on the day and that was good enough to win my age group – 1st place out of 65 men age 55-59 and a slot for Nice!  This was my 1st career win at an Ironman branded event.  I was 70th out of 1,400 overall finishers.  The fastest run split was only 39 seconds faster than me by Phil Young.  Phil finished 2nd, 3:32 behind me.

I was very fortunate to have such a good race.  God has blessed me.  My wife Laurie joined me on the trip and it was especially sweet to share this experience with her.  We are a team.  I know I could not have anywhere near the success without Laurie’s support.

To see my pictures from the race, click on this link

After the race, Laurie and I had dinner with our friends Bob (Coach) and Janech Davenport.  I met Coach and Janech in 1991 when I biked Coast to Coast (Oceanside, CA to New Smyrna Beach, FL) with their Christian organization called Wandering Wheels.  Since 1964 Wandering Wheels has changed thousands of lives with their cycling ministry.  It was so great to see Coach and Janech!

I also used this trip as an opportunity to visit my family in the Chicago area.  Before the race on 7/12 Laurie and I had dinner at Beacon Hill with my cousin Randy and his wife Connie, my sister Cindy, my sister Debbie and her husband Bill and my 97 year old Mom.  We had another big family gathering on 7/15 with my Mom, sisters and the families of my nieces and nephews.  Laurie and I also had a great lunch at Giordano’s with my long time Delta Upsilon buddy, Chuck Carey.  And Laurie, Mom and I had lunch with Lynda and Lou Hoornbeek on 7/16.  My Mom, Lynda and Lou all live at Beacon Hill.  Lynda and Lou are the parents of my long time Glen Ellyn friend, Dave Hoornbeek who now lives in Washington state.  Yes, I have much to be thankful for!

Living the life…

Craig Zelent

Posted in 2018, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

San Diego International Triathlon – #300

Craig – 1st place men’s 55-59

Scott & Susanne Davis celebrate 17th wedding anniversary. Susanne – 1st place women’s 45-49.

Craig and Susan Powell – 1st place Sprint Athena Masters.

On June 24th I raced the San Diego International Triathlon.  This was my 300th career triathlon so I was determined to have a great race.  It all went well as I placed 1st out of 25 men age 55-59 and 30th out of 438 overall finishers.

The 1K (0.62 miles) swim was in the Spanish Landing boat harbor.  This was the 15th time I have raced SDIT and typically the sun poses a significant glare challenge during the swim.  This year the sky was overcast so sighting was easy.  I had a great swim as I came out of the water in 1st place with a time of 13:25.

The 30K (18.6 miles) bike starts and finishes by San Diego International Airport.  The first 2 miles of the bike course is flat, but then it spikes up with a tough climb up to Cabrillo National Monument.  We do 2 laps of rolling hills by Cabrillo Monument.  As I was completing lap 1 it was not clear where the turn was to start lap 2.  I over shot the turn, but was safely able to stop.  I actually ran with my bike to go over the 2 timing mats on foot and then jumped back on the bike for lap 2.  It felt crazy at the time, but I definitely completed the course.  I felt great on the bike, aside from that mistake.  I had the 8th best bike split of 51:41 (20.4 mph) and that dropped me to 6th place, but 1st place was within easy striking distance.

The 10K (6.2 miles) point to point run course starts by the airport, but finishes 3 miles away at Seaport Village.  The run course is pancake flat.  I had the fastest run on the day by 5:54.  My run split was 40:04 (6:26/mile).  I won by 5:17 with a finish time of 1:48:25.

To see pictures from my race, please click on this link:

I heard an amazing story about some lady who completed her 1st triathlon that day at SDIT.  Unfortunately her bike was stolen from her home the night before the race.  She still showed up on race morning and she did the race on one of those ridesharing city bikes.  I can’t imagine trying to do the climb up to Cabrillo on one of those bikes.  This lady embodies the spirit of triathlon.  She has earned my respect.

My friends Scott and Susanne Davis celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary.  Susanne won the women’s 45-49 age group and Scott was there to cheer her on.  And to cap off a perfect day, an athlete I am coaching, Susan Powell, won the Athena Masters division in the Sprint race.

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: June 2018 – Keith Benline

Keith putting his granddaughter to work at Robert’s Auto Service

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with Keith Benline.  Keith is a long time member and sponsor of TCSD as the owner of Robert’s Auto Service.  Keith is passionate about giving back to the community as you will see.  I am certain you will thoroughly enjoy getting to know this great guy!

Craig: What activities were you involved in before triathlon?

Keith: I was an All-Star Little League baseball player for Corona National Little League. After Little League, I made the baseball team for Auburndale Junior High School and thought I would be baseball player. My best friend and his cousin were guitar players, though, and kept asking me to learn to play the bass. So I decided instead of baseball to be a Rockstar, so I gave up on baseball during high school and pursued playing the bass guitar and singing. When my band got to play during the school lunch period I thought I had “arrived.” It was a surf band called Soundwaves and we were pretty popular from 1982 – 1984 in Corona and Riverside. People also knew us because of the cars we drove. The lead singer drove a 1966 Willy’s Jeep and I drove a bright orange 1975 Honda CVCC. My Dad loved those cars because no one knew how to work on them. We had 4 different Honda CVCC’s in those days. My dad taught me how to work on them and together we would keep all the cars running, rebuild their engines, plus work on the family boat and truck. So, as I entered my community college years, I had built a background as an athlete, rockstar, and auto mechanic.

Craig: What led to your becoming a triathlete?

Keith: After high school, I started to struggle a tad with my weight and so I started running. I would run all over Riverside (where I lived at the time) but mostly just for a workout. I loved the freedom that running gave me plus it always helped drop pounds fast. When I moved to Carlsbad in 1997, I started running along the coast and loved it even more, to the point I decided to sign up for the Carlsbad Half Marathon in 2000 and see how I could do. I ran a 1:33:30 for my first race and I was hooked. But, while training for my next race I dealt with a nagging injury on the inside of my left foot that would creep up my leg. It was frustrating and would not heal. It would act up about half way in my run then nag me for the next day. During one of my run attempts (it was Thanksgiving day in 2001 I think), I met a gentleman from Switzerland who was out running. I had seen him before and so I asked him if he had any plans for Thanksgiving. He did not so I invited him over to my house. His name was Christian. I told him about my injury and he recommended switching to triathlons so I could swim and cycle and take some pressure off my foot and all the running. We headed to the Carlsbad Pool a few days later to work on my swimming. The only lanes open were the “fast” lanes so we jumped in there and worked on our strokes. I could barely make it 50 meters without having to take a break. Suddenly we look up and there were two very fit male and female swimmers wanting to jump into our lane. I asked them if there were “fast” (because I would get out of the lane if they were) but they just jumped in and started hammering out laps. I was in awe as to how fast they were. They had names on their swimsuits. The guy’s suit had “McCormack” and the girls suit “Jones.” My friend from Switzerland was laughing at me because I had asked them if they were fast. He asked me if I knew who they were, but I had no clue. He informed me it was Michellie Jones and Chris McCormack and he was bragging about how Michellie took the silver medal in the first Olympic Triathlon because the Swiss girl beat her. So that was my first venture into the Triathlon.

Craig: What are some memories from doing your first triathlon races?

Keith: So after my first triathlon on a borrowed bike, I purchased a bike and started triathlon training. I saw the Tri Club had their local races at Glorietta Bay so I signed up. I had a short stint racing dirt bikes in the desert when I was 18 – 20.  I wisely gave them up when I got married and raised a family, but the drive down to Glorietta Bay with my triathlon bike in the back of my Xterra so reminded me of when I used to take my Dad’s truck with my dirt bike in the back heading towards the race. The race went well and I’ll never remember all the talk back then about this new coach from Alabama named Mike Plumb who was fast and joining the Tri Club and that he was racing that day. I had met Mike earlier so I knew who he was. Well, when I got out of T2 and headed on the out and back run, about  ¾ into the first mile here came the leaders back heading towards the finish. It was Anders Aannestad followed by Mike Plumb close on his heels. Mike’s face showed pain, determination, and grit and sure enough Mike made the pass that day and won. When I asked Mike about it, he said it’s all about pain management. And the second club race I did there was some guy that won the race that had the most goofy looking bike you’d ever seen. I thought maybe you have to have one of those bikes to go fast. I later learned it was none other than Craig Zelent. So then, we all went out looking for that “edge” that Craig had. I’ll never forget fellow Tri Clubber Tom Washington and I meeting up before those club races and trying race wheels and everything to compete, then realizing it isn’t just about the equipment and laughing about it. Those were great times!

Craig: What was your favorite all time endurance race?

Keith: I have 2 favorite all time endurance races and then one short distance race that almost killed me every time I tried it. The first all time endurance race was the Carlsbad Half Marathon.  I think it was 2002 and I had Mike Plumb coach me. I hated him with a passion during those extremely hard track workouts and tempo runs he had me doing. But they worked. I ran a PR 1:23:30 and felt great the whole time, wisely drafting off faster runners.  Drafting off Elvis and three beautiful athletic women at different times during the race helped.  Then I signed up for my first Half Ironman (when Oceanside first became a Half Ironman) and all my friends told me to not even try for a sub 5 hour result on my first try. I had a PR of 4:53:13 and was so thrilled. It was really coming together. Then lastly, the hardest of them all for me was trying to break 18 minutes for a 5K. I ran 6 or 7 5K’s trying to beat that time, from the Carlsbad 5K, La Jolla Shores 5K, to a few different downtown San Diego 5K’s. I blew up so many times with only a few hundred yards to go. The closest I got was 18:02, so close. You have to run 5:45 per mile splits to beat 18 minutes on a 5K and for me it was more brutal then any of the long endurance races. I could run 6:00 per mile flat all day but as soon as I dropped below that it was brutal!

Craig: What have been some of your most embarrassing sports moments?

Keith: My very first triathlon was a backwards triathlon in Hemet. It was a 5K run, followed by a 12 mile bike, then a 100 yard swim in the high school pool. I thought to myself, “I could do that.” I had done no bike workouts at that time. Only swimming and running. I thought to myself, “How hard can it be to bike 12 miles?” So I borrowed a road bike from a friend who is a cyclist and off I went. I was 5th overall after the 5K (because my run speed was really improving) but I fell flat on the bike. So many people passed me. I really struggled. I had my swim speedos on under my run shorts. Once we got into T2 I pulled off my running shorts and started sprinting towards the high school pool. But something was wrong, something felt very wrong and it seemed everyone was staring at me. I then realized I felt like I was naked down below. I thought maybe I pulled my swim speedos off by mistake, but I looked down and nope they were still on. “Whew, I thought, only to feel naked again 25 yards later and have to relook down to make sure again. I finished the swim then noticed a strange numb feeling down below. I thought I had permanently injured myself. I was so relieved when my cycling buddy laughed hysterically and told me about numbness from not wearing padding and it would pass.

The other most embarrassing sports moment was peeing my pants playing baseball in front of everyone. My dad was the coach and was adamant that everyone go to the bathroom before the game. Well, I didn’t. We were playing the Yankees, the #1 team and they got to bat first. I played shortstop and they scored like 20 runs in that first inning and it took forever to get them out. I had to go to the bathroom bad and wasn’t about to face my Dad, so, go I went, right there in front of everyone in my pants.  I remember the kids on the Yankees pointing it out and laughing. It was really embarrassing.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

Keith: It seemed that back in the day, triathlon was more of a unique sport. Those of us that participated in it were more casual about things and enjoyed the camaraderie amongst us. Jim McCann (former Tri Club President) was very casual yet did a fantastic job keeping us from getting to caught up in ourselves and handling situations. It was like we were an extended family. These days the sport has become more professional, serious, and seems to have lost some of that camaraderie from the early days. I know things change and the sport has grown tremendously which is good. I just loved the early days of the small Tri Club of San Diego before things got too big and serious.

Craig: Who have been some of the most influential people or events in your life?

Keith: Pastor Dave Bolton and Asst. Pastor Cheyenne Figueroa were a huge part of my life spiritually. I was raised Catholic, but had given up.  They led me back to the Lord and helped me start my marriage and family on Jesus’ foundation, right at the time I was getting married to Kelly. Remember I was trying to be a Rockstar back in those days. Our band was trying to get signed by a record label and we were getting close. I decided to quit the band and focus on my Lord and my family. I then became the Worship Leader at the church for 7 years before moving to San Diego. Bob Cooper was an automotive repair consultant I worked for from 1995 – 2003 in San Diego. He was very influential on my business life and it motivated me to read as many business books as I could to help our automotive repair shops that hired us to do better.

Craig: What was your career path before becoming the owner of Robert’s Auto Service?

Keith: After attending Riverside City College pursuing business as my degree, I dropped out. I was too busy trying to be a Rockstar. My girlfriend’s dad at the time worked for a finance company. So I thought it would be a great career to be a branch manager for a finance company and work my way up. The pay was not so good, though. That’s when I met a drummer who was working for an oil distributor selling motor oil to automotive facilities. I was very familiar with automotive and engine oil having grown up working on cars with my dad and working on my own cars now that I was married. So I went to work for the oil company for more money and better perks. I was living in Riverside by March Air Force base and they had two openings, either on the other side of Los Angeles or San Diego. I chose San Diego. It was then I met Bob Cooper the consultant to automotive repair shops. After a few years I joined up with Bob to help shops and one of the first shops that I got to sign up with us was Robert’s Auto Service. Bill Clum was the owner and it was one of the most popular long time shops in San Diego. But Bill was getting tired and ready to move on so he kept offering me to either manage or buy the shop from him. My house in Carlsbad had sky rocketed in value and I was able to leverage the house and buy Robert’s Auto Service from Bill Clum in 2003 and then the land it sits on in 2005. With the years of reputation of Robert’s Auto Service (since 1969) and its family owned and operated focus, I knew I could take Robert’s Auto Service to the next level with my finance background and the business knowledge I learned from consulting. Combined with my mechanical expertise I knew I could make it work.

Craig: What makes Roberts unique among the local auto repair shops?

Keith: When I worked for the auto repair consultant, I noticed there were only a handful of well-run independent auto repair shops in San Diego. Robert’s Auto Service was at the top of that list. Anyone who has lived in San Diego, especially around La Jolla, PB, etc. knows about Robert’s Auto Service. It was started by Robert Martin in 1969 as Robert’s VW on Cass and Grand St in Pacific Beach. Bill Clum partnered with Robert shortly after and bought Robert out in 1974. Shortly after that Bill Clum moved Robert’s Auto Service over to the Bird Rock area right on La Jolla Blvd. Robert’s stayed there until about 1984 when it moved to its current location at 4630 Mission Bay Drive. Most automotive repair shops are run by mechanics who lack in communication skills, frustrating most people. I have strived to fix that and make sure communication and understanding are key between us and our customers. Our online reviews reflect this. I have always been a fan of the Tri Club and from the time I purchased Robert’s Auto Service I signed up to be a club sponsor. I wasn’t sure how it was going to be accepted because we are a non-triathlon sponsor but I figured people need their vehicles to get to their triathlons. Over the years I have used Robert’s Auto Service to help those in the Tri Club who go above and beyond to volunteer their time in the Tri Club. I have given them HUGE discounts to say Thanks. This includes, but not limited to former Presidents Gurujan Dourson, Jim McCann, Brian Long, Thomas Johnson, and Mike Plumb.  Also coaches Bill Gleason, Jim Vance, and a few others. I also fix the Tri Club of San Diego’s van and keep it going no charge to the club! Robert’s Auto Service offers a 10% discount ($100 max) to any tri club member. I also make sure I oversee any Tri Club Member’s vehicle that comes in. I may not be here when the car gets checked in but I go through every repair order and find out who they are. If it’s a fellow Tri Clubber I make sure I go over the repair thoroughly and always try to greet and say hello when they pick their car up. Robert’s Auto Service is also an Approved Auto Repair facility through the AAA and we have over 700 5 star reviews! We care and we will always care. You can put your trust in us.

Craig: How do you use your business as a ministry?

Keith: So, after being involved in church music ministry, I noticed many Pastors and leaders in the church don’t get paid very much.  So, just like I help those special people in the Tri Club who go above and beyond, I help Pastors with their vehicles. I have fixed / repaired many Pastors vehicles at no charge. It’s my way of giving to God. Some of the Pastors I don’t even know, they were referred to me so I figured it was God’s way of putting us together. A lot of these people could make money in the secular world but they have chosen the path of ministry to help people, and so I want to help them. It isn’t just Pastors. There are those who have ministries, such as my friend CJ who goes into prisons and ministers with Christian music and teaching to the inmates. Of course he needs his vehicle to get to these prisons. God has changed many lives of inmates who CJ ministers to. God has blessed me with Robert’s Auto Service, so I use Robert’s Auto Service to minister back!

Craig: What is the prison ministry you are involved in and how do you think that helps people?

Keith: With my music background, CJ has asked me to go with him into these prisons. I have been doing it on and off over the past 10 years with him. You would be surprised how many good men and women are incarcerated, that are good people who just made some bad decisions. God has reached into the heart of these men and women and changed them. I have been reading articles in the news lately with factual evidence showing the much higher percentage of rehabilitation of inmates who find God. I believe in that. Recently the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) has been going through changes and focusing more on down to earth ministries and getting away from Televangelists. So they asked CJ to go into the prisons across America where they have their TV installations and put a “face” to the programs. CJ asked me to join him for one week up and down California on the tour bus to go in and play Christian music and minister. It was quite the experience. Especially when we ended up in McFarland and the Prison Chaplain was telling us all about the movie (about a high school cross country running team.) That was like God putting everything together.

Craig: How has the prison ministry opened your eyes?

Keith: The ministry has opened my eyes to who is in prison and how a few momentary bad decisions in their lives caused it. Yes, there are the really bad people that are in there. But there also husbands, wives, young men and woman who are really good people and just got a little off track. I realized quickly that but for the grace of God I could’ve made those few bad decisions. Some of them are so nice and polite, they just got caught up in drugs. They have worked hard at changing their lives to not have it happen again. These are the inmates that make the effort worthwhile. They are so incredibly thankful that we took the time to come out and visit them.

Craig: What are your future goals?

Keith: When I bought Robert’s Auto Service in 2003, my goals were to achieve a business that can run itself so I can support Pastors and Ministers and don’t have to worry about a “job” or “finances” per se. I have accomplished that goal but life also changes. For the past six years, my wife Kelly and I have babysat (and now homeschool) 2 of our 6 grandchildren who live in Bonsall by us. This keeps us pretty busy and I’m very blessed to be able to spend time with my grandchildren in the morning before I come into the shop. As far as triathlon, I get motivated when people like Bob Larsen (who has been coming to the shop for years) come into the shop and tell me what Meb Keflezighi is doing and then watch him win the Boston Marathon. That is very motivating. But with my life schedule and goals, I currently don’t race much. I still swim, bike and run, I just don’t race much anymore. Having set all my PR’s in my 30’s and 40’s and now dealing with an aging body (52) and things like a slightly bulged disc, I have to be smart and not let my ego get the better of me and make things worse. I did have a “bucket list” to get back and race dirt bikes like I used to and I did do that in the desert from age 48 to 50. But I quickly wised up about that as well and have since “retired” from that kind of racing. I plan on owning Robert’s Auto Service for a long time and continuing to use it as a ministry, sponsoring and helping the Tri Club of San Diego, and making sure we continue to earn everyone’s trust who comes in the door. So, until things change, I’m currently focused on raising grandkids, running Robert’s Auto Service, staying involved in ministry and giving back, and using triathlon as my fitness goals to stay in shape as my body ages.

Craig: Keith, thank you so much for sharing your story.  The work you do in the community with Robert’s and your ministry is very impressive and much appreciated by all whom you touch.  We are all proud to call you our friend.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2018, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LA Tri Series Triathlon

Brenda Goller and Craig.

Peter and Fiona Pallag in Cairns, Australia

On May 12th I raced the LA Tri Series Triathlon at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, CA.  This was my 4th race in 5 weeks.  It went well as I placed 1st out of 13 men in the 55-59 age group and 10th out of 166 overall finishers.

The ground was wet from a light drizzle just before the race, but at least it never rained during the race.  The air temperature was not too cold – it was probably 58 degrees when the race started and the low 60’s by the time I finished.

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) fresh water lake swim went well for me.  I swam 24:55 putting me in 3rd place, just 18 seconds behind 1st place who was my friend, Mike Plumb.  Unfortunately I had a terrible time getting out of my wet suit so I lost some more time in transition.  T1 has never been my strength.

The bike course is very challenging.  The 22 miles is comprised of 3 laps of a hilly course.  The roads were 100% wet when I started the bike, but by the time I was done they were mostly dry.  I biked reasonably well.  My bike split was 1:04:45 which was 4th best and that performance kept me in 3rd place, 5:37 behind Mike.

The 10K (6.2 mile) run is also very challenging, but it plays to my strengths.  It is hilly and much of the course is on trails.  Just after mile 2 I passed Mike.  I did not know it at the time, but that put me in 1st place.  I continued to run hard all the way to the end since I was not certain if there was anyone else ahead of me.  I had the best run of the day as I ran exactly 40:00 to finish the race in 2:13:35.  Mike finished 3rd and another friend, Chris Dyrek, finished 4th.

The race was a lot of fun, but the highlight of the day was yet to come.  My cousin’s wife, Brenda Goller, lives nearby so we were able to get together for lunch.  We had a great visit and I look forward to seeing her again when I race in the area.

And later in the day back in San Diego I was able to attend a Celebration of Life for Peter Pallag who had died earlier this year.  Peter had a lot of friends from the Triathlon Club of San Diego so it was a wonderful reunion of old friends.  This day reminded me how blessed I am to be alive and healthy enough to participate in triathlon.  Every day and every race is a gift from God.

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments